Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday 11 January 2015

The Sunday Songbook - The ballad of Charlie Hebdo

Where have all the grown-ups gone? On one hand, you have a satirical magazine rejoicing in its role as enfant terrible of French journalism and producing cartoons of occasionally spectacular vulgarity and, on the other, a group of fanatics claiming that their Prophet's status is so fragile it can somehow be damaged by a mere drawing.

Although the perpetrators of last week's atrocity and similar crimes are nominally adult and have access to firearms and explosives, we are essentially seeing 'Lord of the Flies' enacted on a global scale; there is something inescapably childish about their arrogant posturing on video and their spurious justification for murder and unilateral violence.

Like all bullies, they need to be met with a united front and a refusal to succumb to their attempts at mass intimidation. I've never been keen on the 'Charlie Hebdo' house style - I prefer my satire rather more aesthetically pleasing - but I heartily applaud the defiance that brought ordinary French people onto the streets in their millions (even if the 'world leaders' did somewhat spoil the effect).

One thing the journalists and cartoonists of 'Charlie Hebdo' had right; it is important that terrorists should never be allowed to assume the status of bogeymen in our collective consciousness or to command the awe and dread they wish to inspire in us.

In that spirit - and with all due respect to the victims of an appalling crime - I offer the following:

To make fun of the Prophet takes men who are bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear;
Just take the example of 'Charlie Hebdo'
And the cartoonists' freedom to jeer.

Of ribald depictions and scurrilous news
The magazine's made a career
But cartoons of Mohammed and critical views
Of Islamists have now cost it dear.

On Twitter and Facebook the faithful complained
Saying editor Charb went too far;
How lucky free speech guaranteed them a way
To explain just why 'Je ne veux pas'!

But no legal means would suffice for the ones
Who tried petrol alight in a jar
Or those whose response consists solely of guns
And a cry of  'Allahu akbar'.

You may well give offence if you want to make fun
Of religions that people hold dear,
But who's to decide if a cartoon or pun
Is high satire or blasphemous sneer?

Whoever it is who is taking a stand
There is one thing that has to be clear;
The unwritten sign of a civilized land
Should be freedom to speak without fear.